How to Shoot Portraits Through FaceTime

How to Shoot Portraits Through FaceTime

If anything good has come out of the current lockdown, it’s the many wonderful ways people have been finding to stay creative. When the coronavirus began to take hold and necessary government instructions rendered my wedding and portrait photography business inoperable, I had to deal with the shock and financial implications of it like any other photographer. It also threw up another challenge: how do we as creatives stay creative?

How do we continue to feed that urge when you can’t get close enough to your subjects to safely photograph them, and keep our own minds healthy during a very difficult time?

I then had an idea to sustain myself creatively and socially, and threw it out to a few contacts — maybe with the use of some common apps and bits of tech, I could continue to make work. Using FaceTime, a MacBook Pro, and my subject using an iPhone under instruction, I was able to make portraits of people in isolation, distanced from the world and the people that make it up.

I’ve been lucky enough that my FaceTime portraits have really caught folk’s attention, and I’ve been fielding a lot of questions from other photographers. I’m a big believer in community over competition so I thought I’d answer some of the questions here!

Let’s get the boring technical bit out of the way:

  • I shoot through FaceTime from my Macbook. My subject is using an iPhone ideally, though an iPad can work (just the camera isn’t so good). There is an onscreen button to take a photo, it takes a ‘Live’ photo which is basically a 3-second video that you can pull stills from (or export as a video, or even a GIF!).
  • They need to be running iOS 11 or later.
  • They need to have FaceTime Live Photos enabled (Settings>FaceTime>Live Photos – toggle on)
  • They need to have their phone set to upload photos to iCloud
  • If they have to change any settings they’ll need to restart their device

We start by finding the good light or by making good light with blinds or drapes. There’s lots of running around the house, which is really great for the energy of the shoot. Then we just try to be creative and have fun with it — it’s a welcome diversion for me and for them from the current situation!

The photos save to my Photos app on my laptop, from there I export them to a folder, and then import them into Lightroom where I do plenty of work!

My main tip here is it’s really easy to blow the highlights, I find fixing this with the ‘heal’ brush on a low opacity works best.

I add grain as it helps with the lo-fi aesthetic.

The non-boring non-technical bit: The image quality is not going to be great! Embrace it!

FTFL (Find The Flipping Light). Get creative. Have fun. Connect with your subject. Enjoy the experience!

I’ve done 50 shoots and counting. The resulting images show people in their homes, as varied and interesting as any other portrait shoot, maybe more so given the strange times in which we find ourselves.

P.S. Want to experience a FaceTime photo shoot for yourself? Book one with me. I wanted to have a positive impact in the real world as well, so £10 from every shoot is being donated to the Trussell Trust to support their vital work.